The “Biggest” Challenge for any Organization in a Digital Age
How will disruptive new technologies — such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and robotics — transform myorganization?
Do I need to change the way I work in order to remain relevant in a digital age?
Will I be replaced by a machine? . . . Am I going to lose my job?
Of course, these aren’t questions that most of us worry about. We generally don’t believe that our jobs will disappear anytime soon.
Yet, I receive these and related questions on an almost daily basis. From students, from co-workers, and from people that I meet at the various events and conferences where I am speaking.
It is remarkable that so many people — regardless of nationality, age, or life experience — share these concerns about the impact of the digital world.
The reasons for this anxiety seem fairly straightforward:
- The pace of technological change and the determination of all companies to embrace new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and automation.
- The constant stream of stories and books — such as Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow — predicting that new technologies will transform, in our lifetimes, how businesses and other organizations operate.
- The innate human fear of the unknown. A universal fear of being left behind if new technologies are not fully understood and embraced.
I am often asked to give an overview of my thoughts on this issue. So, here are five quick predictions about “what will happen to our jobs tomorrow?”. This is by no means intended to be a complete list, but just the “headline thoughts”.
#1 — “Intelligent Machines Will Change Everything”
Robots and automation have already had a significant impact on manual labour.
This trend is only expected to grow in the near future. Drivers, cashiers, kitchen staff, etc. will most likely soon be replaced by “machines”.
What is interesting is that the development of smart robots is particularly fast in countries that experience staff shortfalls and demographic issues. Japan is perhaps the most obvious example.
But, as I have mentioned in another Medium piece, the impact of smart machines will not only be limited to manual work in specific sectors.
Knowledge workers will also be affected.
Routine and predictable activities are already being better performed by machines and algorithms. Think of reviewing legal documentation, analyzing medical images and processing certain insurance claims. The scope of such activities will no doubt continue to expand.
Intelligent machines will change everything.
In that sense, at least, people are right to be concerned about how their skill-set will be needed in an automated world. We do need to think about these issues and to plan for a digital future.
#2 — “We Will Live in a ‘Data-Driven’ World of ‘Machine-2-Machine’ Communication”
We will see more and more machines communicating and transacting with each other in the future.
Blockchain technology and smart contracts will only stimulate this trend further.
We can already see how the Internet of Things is making big waves in several industries and sectors.
For instance, IoT applications are very popular among municipal governments. Connected sensors and street lights are viewed as necessary tools to collect and analyze data to improve traffic flows, public transportation, communication and city infrastructures.
A plethora of examples show that human experience and input will become less relevant in this new world of “big data”.
Big data analytics is used to calculate home values, make predictions and even improve sports teams and players.
#3 — “New Technology Will Not ‘Replace’ Humanity. It Will ‘Augment’ Reality”
But the current technological revolution cannot be reduced to a simple dystopian narrative of job loss and stress.
Technological innovation has always shaped our futures.
Think about the invention of the light bulb or the introduction of the personal computer. Both “innovations” profoundly changed the way we live and work. But, we soon adapted to these changes and they are now seen as an indispensable part of the human experience.
Technology augments our experience.
As a species, we are remarkably adept at creating new technologies and then re-inventing ourselves around that new technology.
Clearly, the digital revolution is different, in that innovation cycles are shorter and the pace of innovation is much faster. The resulting speed and scale of social change means that we often struggle to understand and adapt. It seems clear that everyone needs more guidance in order to better understand our shifting relationship with technology.
Nevertheless, I do believe that new digital technologies are not so very different from the invention of the light bulb or PC.
New technologies augment our existing knowledge, expertise and skills. They automate trust and help make us work better and faster.
Such technologies have the potential to contribute to a healthier work-life balance. And most significantly, new technologies create a world of multiple new opportunities.
#4 — “There Will be (Many) New Job Opportunities”
Perhaps the most important observation is that the digital age leads to tremendous new job and career opportunities.
And here I don’t only refer to the possibility of creating your own business or becoming part of a start-up that is developing amazing technologies and bringing them to market.
Large and established companies increasingly offer opportunities to digital technologists to enter into a working relationship with them, either as employee or consultant.
But, such companies are not only searching for technologists.
They also welcome futurists and “millennial experts” to help them with the numerous ethical, design and implementation issues regarding new technologies.
They can help create awareness of new products and technological solutions and applications. Perhaps more importantly, they help humanize a company’s brand and culture (important in an age of digitization and big data).
For other creators, the digital world offers numerous opportunities and advantages, as well.
They will be able to distribute their work faster through the Internet. New technologies — particularly blockchain and smart contracts — offers the possibility of a more direct, peer-to-peer relationship with their “fans”.
They can share content directly and get rewarded without the interference of ‘middlemen’ or ‘agents’.
In this new digital world, a premium will be on those skills that are most “human”.
The capacity to create, to innovate and to give meaning to the world. Precisely those skills that will be hardest for a machine — however ‘intelligent’ it may be — to replicate.
#5 — “Technology-Driven Social Change is an Incremental & Unnoticed Process”
What is interesting for me is that not everybody seems to realize that new digital technologies have already had a significant impact on the job-market.
People worry about some imagined future without necessarily being aware of how much things have already changed.
For instance, when I discuss these issues with some of my colleagues, they tend to speak about changes in the job market “in the future”. They talk as though this is a science fiction discussion, rather than a current event.
The thing to remember, however, is that the job market is constantly being disrupted as a result of technological developments. The exponential growth of new technologies has, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the way we work.
But this on-going and gradual process can easily go unnoticed.
If I think about myself, I cannot remember working without a smartphone, a computer or the Internet. It is no longer possible to imagine ever having worked without such devices.
It may sound a little strange, but the process of being “captured” by new technologies appears to be a largely unconscious process. We are so immersed in the activities that new technologies make possible that we hardly notice the technology.
The wonder of new technology is how it “disappears” into the background and facilitates new and previously unimagined activities.
So, What’s Next?
New digital technologies mean that many jobs will disappear. But this should not be the cause of despair.
Equally, however, nor is it a time to be complacent. In a digital world, everyone needs to think very carefully about the meaning and effects of technology, and how it affects what they do and how they do it.
Everyone needs to understand and embrace new technologies in order to discover its unlimited possibilities and opportunities.
And the “biggest challenge for any organization in digital age?”
To create an environment and culture in which this kind of dynamic and creative response to new technology is both encouraged and appreciated.